Friday 5 March 2021
Public Health Devon figures for the latest week of available data show case rates slightly higher in those aged over 80 years old and those aged 20 to 59 years old.
The county's case rates are currently highest in East Devon.
In this update:
- Testing our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic
- First step of lockdown easing starts on Monday
- Everything you need to know for school next week
- Devon's public health chief encourages pupils to take part in COVID-19 testing
- Government budget includes support for businesses and workers
- Life-saving ‘early warning system’ device offered to eligible patients with coronavirus in Devon
- Inspiration from vaccination – the Devon nurse reassuring his patients in verse
Testing our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic
Regular testing for coronavirus is going to be the cornerstone of our transition back to normal life, Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, has declared.
With schools and colleges opening up again, and restrictions set to gradually ease over coming weeks and months – subject to the latest data at the time – testing is going to be a vital part of keeping the spread of coronavirus under control, Steve explains:
“Coronavirus thrives on socialisation, which is why we see case numbers fall during lockdown, when movement and socialising is restricted.
“Taking a COVID-19 test regularly when you don't have symptoms – the rapid tests that give results within the hour – is going to be an absolutely vital part of our way out of the coronavirus pandemic.
"About one in three people with coronavirus do not have symptoms but can still pass it on to others, so regular testing will help stop the spread by detecting cases so people can self-isolate."
Rapid lateral flow tests for people without coronavirus symptoms are available to order from the NHS online for home delivery, or they can be collected from national NHS testing sites. At the moment they are just for members of a household, childcare bubble or support bubble of school staff or pupils, but the government policy and guidance around testing is changing rapidly so we will keep you updated.
Rapid COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms of the virus is also available at fixed and mobile community testing sites across Devon, and more will be set up in coming weeks. As well as members of a household, childcare bubble or support bubble of school staff or pupils, anyone whose job or volunteering work requires them to leave the house and be in contact with others can book a test at these sites.
First step of lockdown easing starts on Monday
The initial steps to slowly ease the coronavirus lockdown in England will begin on Monday (8 March). Schools will reopen for face-to-face teaching for all pupils; care home visits are resuming with one regular named visitor; and people will be allowed to leave home for outdoor recreation as well as exercise with their household or support bubble or one person from outside of their household.
That's it for now though. It's not much, but it's a start. And if we all carry on complying with the restrictions by continuing to stay at home as much as possible, following the guidance around hands, face, space if you do go out, testing and self-isolating when required and getting vaccinated, we will be able to enjoy a bit more freedom from the end of March.
As lockdown gradually lifts, and we are able to see more people, go more places and do more things, we might see a slight rise in the coronavirus case figures. But we've also got significantly more testing capacity now, especially for people without coronavirus symptoms, so we can find and isolate cases that previously would have gone undetected and likely to have been transmitted unknowingly.
Everything you need to know for school next week
All pupils in Devon can return to school and college for face-to-face teaching from Monday (8 March) as the government's four-step plan to ease lockdown gets underway.
We know some people will be feeling anxious, but please be reassured that our schools are experienced at managing risk and are well practiced at keeping staff, children and their families safe in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
Pupils and staff in secondary schools and colleges along with primary school staff will be offered two rapid COVID-19 tests a week. Some secondary schools and colleges have already started this ahead of their return to the classroom next week in order to identify anyone who might be carrying the virus but not displaying any symptoms, so that they can self isolate to prevent unknowingly spreading it.
Earlier this week we sent you an email with some useful information and resources to help you and your child prepare for next week, including what safety measures will be in place and how to support your child's mental health. If you missed it, you can read a copy on our website.
Devon's public health chief encourages pupils to take part in COVID-19 testing
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, is encouraging parents to give their consent to allow their children to be tested for coronavirus at secondary school and college.
"The first step in the government's roadmap starts next week with all students returning to schools and colleges," he said.
"Students are going to be asked to take a lateral flow test twice a week, and while it's not mandatory, I really encourage all parents to consent for their children to be tested.
"Testing students will enable us to identify those who have no symptoms, but are infectious, and so they can isolate immediately, as can their households.
"This will allow us to break the chain of transmission. If we don't do this, there is a risk that COVID-19 would be transmitted unknowingly within the school."
Steve Brown is also encouraging all parents, support bubbles and childcare bubbles of school aged children to also get tested twice a week as well.
To find more information about how to get tested, please visit our website.
Listen to Steve Brown’s update this week in full on our YouTube channel.
Free government-funded training courses available to 250 adults in the South West
To help the region recover from the impact of the pandemic, it is vital that local people are provided with the skills they need to fill job opportunities in the region’s growing sectors; filling the skills gap for employers and getting people back in work.
An additional 250 learner places have been announced on the #Train4Tomorrow Digital Bootcamps which are open to adults in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset, Torbay, Cornwall and Dorset.
The #Train4Tomorrow programme is designed to help people enter highly paid growth industries in the region, such as cyber security, data science, software development, digital marketing and IT. The bootcamps are being run by the Heart of the South West LEP (HotSW LEP) and the Digital Skills Partnership.
Following the success of the oversubscribed digital bootcamps in January 2021, #Train4Tomorrow has secured additional government funding for 250 learner places on digital courses which will start next month (April). The closing date for applications is Friday 9 April.
The free-to-access courses are separated into six key areas, including IT, cyber, data science, software, digital marketing and healthcare, and courses are worth up to £3,000. They are delivered by industry professionals, and are tailored to match current job vacancies in the region. On completion of the training, participants are guaranteed a job interview in the sector in which they have trained.
Government budget includes support for businesses and workers
The government announced their budget this week, which included further support for businesses and workers before coronavirus restrictions are eased over the coming months. It includes:
- Extending the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme (furlough), Self Employment Income Support scheme and £20 per week Universal Credit uplift, until September. Plus, a one-off payment of £500 to eligible Working Tax Credit claimants
- Reduced VAT and business rates relief for businesses in certain sectors, as well as one off cash grants and recovery loans
- Incentives to hire apprentices will be extended to September, and a new 'flexi-job' apprenticeship programme to enable apprentices to work with a number of employers in one sector
- Funding for 40,000 more high quality traineeship work placement for 16-24 year olds in 2021/22 academic year
- More money to support the vaccination roll-out, further vaccine research and to extend the £500 Test and Trace support payments in England until the summer
More details are available on the government's website and you can read what our leader, Councillor John Hart, said about the budget on our News Centre.
Vaccines reduce severe COVID-19 infections in older adults
A Public Health England study shows that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective at significantly reducing severe COVID-19 infections in older people aged 70 years and over.
Data shows that since January, protection against symptomatic COVID-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61 per cent for one dose of Pfizer and between 60 and 73 per cent for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In the over 80 year olds, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation, around three to four weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for the Pfizer vaccine, which suggests it leads to an 83 per cent reduction in deaths from COVID-19.
The new analysis adds to growing evidence that the vaccines are working and are highly effective in protecting people against severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
From this week, the NHS has started to deliver second doses to those people vaccinated first, which will provide higher and longer lasting protection.
GP practices are also currently offering first does of vaccines to people aged 65 and over, or those aged 16 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions.
If you've received a letter from the National Booking System inviting you to book an appointment for your vaccination please don't contact your GP, but use the website or call 119 free between 7.00am and 11.00pm, seven days a week.
Practices are reporting a significant number of calls which are preventing people who need medical help getting through. It also slows down the vaccination programme as it makes it harder to book appointments for people in priority groups.
If you're under 65 years old and don't have an underlying health condition, please wait to be invited for your vaccination.
Treat recycling centre staff with courtesy, please
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we've been working hard to keep our household recycling centres open safely.
This includes ensuring that sites are not too crowded so that everyone can socially distance. It means the number of spaces available to offload waste is limited. This can sometimes lead to long queues, and unfortunately in some cases short tempers! Last weekend we reports of multiple incidents of aggressive or abusive behaviour towards staff. This is totally unacceptable.
We have been clear that sites could be closed temporarily if queues start causing a safety hazard on the public highway, and users may be asked to come back later. We may also stop vehicles joining the queue towards the end of the day, to enable those already in the queue to be served before the site closes.
Please delay disposing of your household recycling centre waste for a week or so, and if you only have a small amount of waste or recyclables, then use your kerbside waste collection services. If you must use our recycling facilities during lockdown, please be patient. Site staff are critical workers who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic so please, they deserve courtesy and respect. Be nice!
Life-saving ‘early warning system’ device offered to eligible patients with coronavirus in Devon
People with COVID-19 in Devon, who are over 65 years old or are clinically extremely vulnerable, are being encouraged to ask their GP about using a potentially life-saving device at home to check their blood oxygen levels are not getting dangerously low.
Under a new NHS scheme, eligible patients can be given a pulse oximeter – a small and simple device which is put on the tip of the finger to measure levels of oxygen in the blood – to use in the comfort and safety of their home during the first 14 days of symptoms.
The service is available to patients who have coronavirus and are symptomatic, and are over 65 or on the clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) list, including people living in care homes.
One of the dangers of coronavirus is that it can cause levels of oxygen in the blood to drop dramatically without any obvious symptoms, such as shortness of breath of feeling very unwell – known as silent hypoxia. This can result in patients going to hospital too late to be treated effectively, sometimes leading to death. The device acts as an early warning system, providing readings that tell the user if blood oxygen levels are getting dangerously low.
By regularly monitoring oxygen levels, it can be easier to spot if coronavirus symptoms are getting worse and identify if someone needs treatment or support.